How To Register Your Business In Canada:  A Friendly Guide

flower shop business owner

Starting your own business is an exciting venture, but it often comes with a slew of questions, especially regarding business registration. Not to worry! In this blog, we’ll walk through the essentials of business registration in a friendly and simple manner, so you can make informed decisions and get your business off the ground. Let’s dive in!

1. If You Start a Business, Do You Have to Register?

The short answer is yes, in most cases. Registering your business is crucial as it helps in establishing your business’s legal identity. It makes your business legitimate and protects your brand while enabling you to comply with legal requirements, such as taxation and employment laws. However, the specifics can vary depending on your location and what type of business you’re starting. Some small businesses, like casual freelancing under your own name, might not require formal registration immediately, but it’s always good to check local regulations.

2. What Are the Registration Options Available to Me?

When it comes to registering your business, you have a few options, each catering to different business needs and structures:

  • Sole Proprietorship/Sole Proprietor: This is a simple type of business entity owned and run by one individual where there is no legal distinction between the owner and the business.
  • Partnership: Comprises two or more people who agree to share the profits or losses of a business.
  • Corporation: A more complex structure where the business is considered a separate legal entity from its owners, providing liability protection to the owners.
  • Limited Liability Company (LLC): This combines the pass-through taxation of a partnership or sole proprietorship with the limited liability of a corporation.  This option is misunderstood to be available in Canada.  An incorporation is available but the LLC is specific to a US corporate option.
  • Extra Provincial Licence:  For individuals who hold a corporation outside of Canada and wish to operate a branch of the existing corporation in Canada.  This is for individuals who usually do not wish to immigrant to Canada.

3. What is the Difference Between Registering a Business and Incorporating?

Registering a business generally refers to the act of registering your business name with the relevant state or local authorities. This process is usually simpler and less costly than incorporating.

Incorporating, on the other hand, involves creating a separate legal entity for your business. This structure provides liability protection to the owners against the company’s debts and obligations. It is a bit more complex and expensive but brings added credibility and benefits in terms of tax and financial liability.

4. What Are the Advantages and Disadvantages of Each?

To help you better understand the advantages and disadvantages of each business structure, here’s a handy chart:

Business StructureAdvantagesDisadvantages
Sole ProprietorshipSimple setup, full control, minimal bureaucracyPersonal liability, harder to raise funds
PartnershipShared resources, simple setupJoint liability, partnership disputes
CorporationLimited liability, easier to raise capital, perpetual existenceComplex to manage, closely regulated, double taxation (in some cases)
LLCLimited liability, flexible tax structures in the United Sates, not available in CanadaCan be expensive to establish, more paperwork

5. Why Start a Business Using Ontario Business Central?

Ontario Business Central offers a streamlined process for registering or incorporating your business in Ontario. We simplify the paperwork, reduce the hassle and provide support at every step. Utilizing our services can be particularly beneficial if you want to ensure compliance with all provincial requirements while focusing more on your business’s operational aspects. They’re especially handy for first-time entrepreneurs who might find the registration or incorporation process daunting.

Starting a business involves many critical decisions, and how you register it is one of the first you’ll need to make. By considering your business needs, potential risks, and growth plans, you can choose the best registration option for you. Whether you’re a solo entrepreneur or planning to launch a startup with multiple partners, getting your registration right sets the foundation for your business’s success story. So take your first step with confidence and good luck!

Remember, this guide provides a general overview, and it’s always good to consult with a legal or business advisor to get advice specific to your situation. Happy business building!

6. Where Should I Register or Incorporate My Business?

Deciding where to register or incorporate your business is a crucial step. Generally, you should register or incorporate your business in the jurisdiction where your business will primarily operate. This means if you’re opening a store, an office, or even if you are primarily conducting business in a specific province, you should register in that province. Here’s what you need to consider:

  • Local Registration: Registering your business locally (in the province where you operate) is often simpler and less costly. It simplifies tax filing and regulatory compliance as you’ll primarily adhere to provincial laws.
  • Federal Incorporation: As an alternative, Canadian entrepreneurs have the option of federal incorporation. While federal incorporation does not provide absolute nationwide name protection, it does grant a level of recognition across provinces. Other provinces can see the incorporation, which may deter local businesses from using a similar name. It’s important to note, however, that this doesn’t automatically prevent other businesses from registering a similar name locally, but it might cause them to reconsider due to the broader visibility of your business name.
register a business

Advantages of Local Registration

  • Simplicity: Generally involves less paperwork and complexity.
  • Cost-Effective: Typically cheaper than federal incorporation.
  • Local Compliance: Easier to comply with local business laws and requirements.

Advantages of Federal Incorporation

  • Name Recognition: Increases the visibility of your business name across Canada.
  • Mobility: Allows more flexibility to operate across different provinces.
  • Credibility: Can enhance the perceived legitimacy of your business nationally and internationally.

Here’s a simple way to decide:

  • If your business will stay local to one province and you want a straightforward approach, registering your business in that province might be the best option.
  • If you anticipate expanding your operations nationwide or want broader recognition for your business name, consider federal incorporation.

Both local registration and federal incorporation have their merits, and your choice should align with your business plans and how broadly you aim to operate. Be sure to consult with a business advisor or legal expert to choose the best option for your specific situation and needs. They can provide detailed insights and help navigate the complexities of business registration and incorporation.

7. Where Can You Register if You Are Not Canadian?

Navigating business registration as a non-Canadian can be a bit more complex, but there are still several viable options available depending on the province or territory. Here’s what non-Canadian residents need to know about registering or incorporating a business in Canada:

  • Ontario and British Columbia: Both Ontario and British Columbia allow non-Canadians to register or incorporate a business without residency restrictions. This makes these two provinces particularly attractive to international entrepreneurs looking to establish a presence in Canada.
  • Other Provinces for Registration Only: In other provinces, while non-Canadians may face restrictions on incorporating, they can still register a business. Registration, as opposed to incorporation, typically allows you to operate a business under a business name in that province but does not provide the liability protections and other benefits of incorporation.
  • Federal Incorporation and Other Provinces: For federal incorporation and in most other provinces, there is a requirement that at least 25% of the directors be Canadian citizens or permanent residents. This requirement ensures a certain level of local representation on the board of directors but can be a limiting factor for foreign entrepreneurs wanting to incorporate federally or in those provinces that uphold this rule.
  • Extra Provincial licence: Where you have an existing active corporation outside of Canada which you wish to operate within Canada.  A corporate address within the jurisdiction of where you would like the business to operate and an individual who will be an agent for service in Canada for your corporation is required.

Why Choose Ontario or British Columbia?

  • Accessibility: Both provinces do not have citizenship or residency requirements for directors, making it easier for non-Canadians to start a business.  Ontario Business Central registers and Incorporate in Alberta, BC, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and federally (specifically for incorporation).
  • Business Environment: Ontario and British Columbia are two of Canada’s most economically significant provinces, offering vibrant markets and business-friendly environments.
  • Flexibility: These provinces offer more flexibility for foreign ownership, which can be advantageous for international business operations.

Considerations for Other Provinces:

While you can register your business in other provinces, incorporation might be restricted due to the director residency requirements. It’s essential to consider how this might impact your business operations and governance.

8.  Is Incorporation or Registration a One-Time Fee?

When starting a business, understanding the financial commitments involved, including whether certain fees are recurring, is crucial. Both incorporation and business registration come with their initial costs and ongoing requirements. Here’s how it generally breaks down:

Incorporation Fees

Incorporation fees, regardless of the jurisdiction within Canada, are typically required just once at the time you incorporate your business. This initial fee covers the processing and establishment of your corporation as a legal entity. However, it’s important to note that while the incorporation fee is a one-time expense, there are ongoing requirements:

  • Annual Returns: Most jurisdictions require incorporated businesses to file annual returns each year. These are not the same as tax returns but are essential for maintaining up-to-date records with the corporate registry. Failing to file annual returns can lead to penalties or even dissolution of the corporation.
  • Corporate Record Maintenance: Corporations are required to maintain accurate records and minutes of corporate meetings, and these must be updated regularly.
  • Continual Existence: Once a business is incorporated, it exists continuously until formally dissolved. You do not need to re-incorporate annually or pay the initial incorporation fees again.

Business Registration Fees

For business registrations, the approach varies significantly across different Canadian jurisdictions:

  • Renewal Requirements: Unlike incorporation, a registered business (such as a sole proprietorship or a partnership) often requires renewal after a certain period. This period can vary by province, but common renewal terms are every three to five years.
  • Continuous Operation in Some Provinces: Some provinces allow registered businesses to operate continuously without the need for periodic renewal. These provinces include Alberta and Saskatchewan. In these locations, once you register your business name, there is no expiry on the registration as long as you comply with any ongoing business laws and regulations.


  • Incorporated Businesses: Pay a one-time incorporation fee and then fulfill annual requirements to maintain good standing.
  • Registered Businesses: Depending on the province, you may need to renew your business registration every few years, although some provinces do allow for continuous operation without renewal.

9. How Much Does It Cost to Register a Business in Canada?

When planning to launch a business, understanding the costs involved is essential for effective budgeting and financial planning. In Canada, the cost to register a business or incorporate varies from province to province, but here’s a general overview of what you can expect:

Business Registration Costs

Registering a business, such as a sole proprietorship or partnership, is generally less expensive than incorporating. The fees for registration typically range from a few hundred dollars, depending on the province. For example:

  • Ontario: Around $60 to $80 for business name registration, valid for five years.
  • British Columbia: Approximately $40 for business name registration, with the registration needing renewal every three years.
  • Quebec: About $35 for registration, with annual declarations required that have their own associated costs.

These fees are for business name registrations and may be slightly higher if you require additional services or expedited processing.

Incorporation Costs

Incorporating a business typically involves higher fees. On average, the cost to incorporate in Canada ranges around $200 to $600. This fee includes the federal incorporation fee if you choose to go that route, or the respective provincial fee if incorporating at the provincial level. For instance:

  • Federal Incorporation: Around $200 if done online through Corporations Canada.
  • Ontario: Approximately $300 to $360 for provincial incorporation.
  • Alberta: Near $450 for provincial incorporation.

These fees cover the initial filing and establishment of your corporation as a legal entity. Keep in mind that additional costs may apply for legal advice, the preparation of additional documents, or if you choose to use service providers to handle the incorporation process.

Ongoing Costs

It’s important to also consider the ongoing costs associated with maintaining your business’s legal status:

  • Annual Returns: Both registered businesses and corporations may have to file annual returns or updates, which can involve additional fees.
  • Renewal Fees: For registered businesses, remember that renewal fees will apply periodically depending on the province.

10. Do I Require Any Documents to Start a Business?

When starting a business, understanding what documentation you’ll need is crucial for a smooth setup process. It’s a common misconception that a large amount of paperwork is necessary to get started. Here’s what you really need to know:

Online Registration or Incorporation

If you are looking to register or incorporate your business online, the process is streamlined to minimize paperwork. Generally, you do not need to provide physical documents to complete the initial registration or incorporation through most online portals, including services like Ontario Business Central. The necessary details, such as business name, type of business, principal address, and information about directors (for incorporation), can typically be submitted electronically through the online service forms.

Documentation Needed for Financial Institutions

While the initial setup online is straightforward, there are scenarios where you will need to provide documentation. One of the most common instances is when opening a bank account for your new business. Financial institutions require certain documents to comply with regulatory requirements, including:

  • Photo Identification: You will need to provide valid photo ID, such as a driver’s license or passport. This helps verify your identity and is a standard requirement across all banks.
  • Business Registration or Incorporation Certificate: Although not needed to register or incorporate online, you’ll need to present your business registration or incorporation documents when setting up your business banking. These documents prove the legality of your business.
  • Additional Documents: Depending on the bank and your business type, you might also be asked for other documents such as proof of business address, business license (if applicable), and Articles of Incorporation (for incorporated businesses).

Why Use Ontario Business Central Instead of Going Direct to the Provincial or Federal System?

When starting a business in Ontario or looking to incorporate federally in Canada, entrepreneurs have the option to go directly through provincial or federal channels or to use services like Ontario Business Central. Here are several compelling reasons why many choose Ontario Business Central over the direct route:

1. User-Friendly Online Portal

Ontario Business Central prides itself on having one of the easiest-to-use online portals for business registration and incorporation. This user-friendly interface simplifies the process, making it less daunting for first-time entrepreneurs and more convenient for seasoned business owners. The portal is designed to guide users through each step efficiently, reducing the likelihood of errors and delays.

2. Dedicated Customer Support

One of the key benefits of using Ontario Business Central is access to dedicated customer support. This support extends beyond simple procedural assistance; the team is equipped to offer guidance on various aspects of the registration and incorporation process. Whether you have questions about the forms, need clarification on regulatory requirements, or require assistance during the submission process, having experienced professionals available can make all the difference.

3. No Monthly or Residual Fees

Ontario Business Central offers its services without the burden of monthly or residual fees. This transparent pricing model means entrepreneurs only pay for the services they need without worrying about ongoing costs. This can be particularly advantageous for startups and small businesses keeping a close eye on their budgets.

4. Proactive Email Communications

Staying compliant with business regulations requires keeping up with various filings and renewals. Ontario Business Central helps businesses stay on top of these requirements through proactive email communications. These updates inform clients about upcoming deadlines, changes in the law, or any actions they need to take to maintain their business status. This service ensures that businesses do not miss important deadlines, helping avoid potential legal issues or penalties.

5. Friendly, Experienced Team

The team at Ontario Business Central is not only experienced but also friendly and approachable. This can significantly enhance the experience, especially for those who may find the bureaucratic aspects of starting and maintaining a business intimidating. A supportive team that handles inquiries with patience and professionalism can relieve much of the stress associated with business administration.

A Message of Encouragement For Aspiring Entrepreneurs

As the owner of Ontario Business Central and an entrepreneur who started my first business at 25, I deeply understand the allure and rewards of forging your own path. Entrepreneurship is not just about building a business; it’s about crafting the life you want, on your terms. Let me share a bit of my journey and the freedoms I’ve embraced along the way.

Pushing the Envelope
Starting a business is a profound exercise in exploring what’s possible. It’s about pushing boundaries, not just in the market, but in your personal growth and capabilities. Every decision you make, from product lines to marketing strategies, shapes the future of your business and, by extension, your life. This can be incredibly empowering.

Determining Your Future
One of the most appealing aspects of entrepreneurship is the autonomy it offers. You get to make the big decisions and steer the direction of your endeavors. This level of control is a stark contrast to working for someone else, where you might have little influence over strategic decisions.

Living on Your Own Terms
I spent many years living in a bustling city, never imagining that one day I could move to a smaller community where nature greets me right outside my door. Thanks to the flexibility of running an ecommerce business, I made that change. Just this morning, as I drove to work, I saw a deer and her fawn crossing the road—a serene reminder of the peaceful life I’ve created. My commute? Just seven minutes. This shift from a hectic city life to a tranquil, rural setting was possible because I chose to build a business that fits the lifestyle I desired.

Building a Life, Not Just a Business
What’s truly rewarding about entrepreneurship is not just the financial success but the ability to design a life that aligns with your values and aspirations. My office is close to home, allowing me significant time with family and to engage in community life. Every day is a testament to living on my terms, driven by my own ambitions and values.

Your Journey Awaits

If you’re contemplating starting your own business, remember that it’s about much more than the work itself. It’s about crafting a lifestyle that brings you fulfillment and joy, whether that means living close to nature, having flexibility in your schedule, or simply the thrill of chasing your passions.

At Ontario Business Central, we’re here to help make the practical aspects of starting your business as smooth as possible, so you can focus on what truly matters—realizing your dreams and living your best life. Remember, every great journey begins with a single step. Why not take that step today?

If you would like our assistance or have further questions to ask, please feel free to reach out to us directly.
Toll-Free: 1-800-280-1913
Local: 1-416-599-9009
Fax: 1-866-294-4363
Office Hours: 9:00am – 5:00pm
Monday – Friday E.S.T.

Ontario Business Central Inc. is not a law firm and cannot provide a legal opinion or advice. This information is to assist you in understanding the requirements of registration within the chosen jurisdiction. It is always recommended, when you have legal or accounting questions that you speak to a qualified professional.